Challenging, that's the word that comes to mind, I have to admit, and it went so quickly, I had no time to consider what it really means, or what, amid the busyness and stress, I actually achieved, so now it's done and dusted, I'm going to to have a look back, to see if I can make sense of it all.
January started with me trying to cram lines into my head, for a new play, two acts, 2 1/2 hours and 2 weeks rehearsal leading to a season in early February. And thanks to COVID, and a few projects being cancelled or delayed, I hadn't been on any kind of stage for five years. I wasn't panicking, not at all.
The whole rehearsal and performance of Coming Out was an interesting, challenging and ultimately not completely satisfying experience. It is a very interesting play, but mounting a brand new work with the writer, the very talented Scott Taylor, doing multiple duties as director, actor and producer, meant that the actors had to muck in and help with rehearsals and blocking just to give it a shape, and when we found ourselves in front of an audience, I felt like we had only just begun to get a grip on the style , tone and content, and, to be honest, for me, it felt like we never really got there. But the rest of the cast was great, there were so many stand out comedy moments, the reception generally warm, and it was a good way to practice trying to loosen my knee-jerk perfectionism, and just let it be what it was. The play dominated the first two months of the year, and by the time it was done I was already feeling a little battle-scarred.
By mid-March we had to face the harsh reality that, in the hard financial climate with the cost of living rising every week, and having recently changed jobs to give us more time for creative projects, we were struggling to pay our bills, and had to cancel a trip we had planned to attend the Adelaide Festival, so instead, after some serious discussions about how we could keep creating and live at the same time offering no answers, leading to a seriously dark night of the soul, where the crushing possibility for having to quit just to make ends meet nearly broke us, but then a miracle happened, and we were not only given the means to dig our way out of the financial hole, but an opportunity for a future with greater freedom. So instead of heading to Adelaide, we borrowed a beach house in Torquay and had a much needed break, mainly in the spa, and toasted the kind angels that had given us the chance of a brighter future and those hard discussions lead to a breakthrough, though it felt like a hard end of the road breakdown and led to the resurrection of an old idea, but you will read more anon.
In May we had a fleeting visit to Bathurst to see my daughter Immogen and her relatively new husband Sam, short but very sweet. Then I was given the opportunity to help with the development of another new work. The week of development and performance of The Dilly-Dally of Death and Dying was a truly joyful and rewarding experience, jumping into rehearsal with a group of super-talented creatives. But the whole experience was over too soon and and by June 10th and 11th we were crewing a new short film, the first one written and directed by my daughter, and star of Apparitions, Cate O'Connor and shot by her partner, Dylan James, a super fun family shoot, full of laughs and late nights and inspired us to think about restarting an old project.
By mid-July the idea of resurrecting our dancing death Shakespeare short, Three Sisters, was growing into its own special kind of monster, and we launched into rewrites and pre-production throughout July, quickly followed by rehearsals in August and a shoot in early September. We are proud of the work we have done to date, we understand making two micro-budget features is a feat, and proves our tenacity, if nothing else; the talented people we worked with and the lessons we learned are vital to our continued drive to make films, but now, it's time to dig in. Three Sisters was a true experiment for us, as we put into practice our dark night of the soul realisation, that we need to put more of our own special kind of weirdness into our work, we need to collaborate, not compromise, and we need to continue to work on being meticulous, not giving up and not giving in. And that needs time, that's one of the reasons we are still in post production when we were hoping to be finished for Halloween. But with this odd little film, and the incredible work everyone has put in, we knew we needed to find a new meticulous approach, allow the story to evolve and, as the directors, hold the emotional drive of the story close so it doesn't get lost along the way. This has been a wonderful, sometimes frustrating, but very rewarding process, and feels like a new way forward for us, a Cinema Viscera 2.0. It's the beginning of more ambitious projects, maximising creativity and expanding the type of creatives we work with. As well as a wonderful cast and brilliant cinematographer, we also worked with two lighting designers from different fields and experience, a choreographer, a voice coach, a brilliant in-camera effects makeup artist and, for the first time, we worked with a separate editor; each of these people and the great experience we had working with them, is giving the work those interesting layers and helped us make discoveries we would have never found alone. It has confirmed for us, going forward, we want to push the boundaries, give each project the time, care, discussion, digging and experimentation it needs to be as good as it can, within all the crazy restrictions of micro-budget filmmaking. Three Sisters is still not finished, but it's getting close and fingers crossed you will be able to see it at a festival somewhere in 2024, but more important than that, it's given us the beginning of a new roadmap and a taste for this exciting new direction.
The end of this year has seen us continuing through post production while working on larger projects, currently in early script stage, with the aim to be pitching, producing and even shooting through 2024. Expanding feels like the word for the new year. But for now, we are soaking our tired bones in a hot tub, knowing this new year is going to need all the energy and enthusiasm we can muster.
I have this belief that my New Year starts on my birthday, so as I spend the day celebrating with family by watching far too many movies and eating too much cake, I like to set a few resolutions to keep me moving forward, and one I make - let's be honest - pretty much every year is to keep a diary so I can note down some of those interesting moments, events, characters and incidents that create the year... then I never seem to get the time. So this year, I thought I would write a monthly blog instead. This is the first one and it's already three months late - but, to be fair, they have been some months!
Don't let that picture deceive you, February was an absolute blur. After we had almost given up on ever buying our own home, we managed to find, make an offer and be accepted in the dying hours of December 2021 and it was time for a sea change.
The 31st of January was our settlement day. So February was filled with packing, cleaning and the moving of hundreds of books and thousands of DVDs and blu rays, mainly in green bags, up many flights of stairs. We also found out we had secured a limited season of APPARITIONS, off the back of the sell-out world premiere at Monster Fest, at Cinema Nova scheduled for mid-March. So we hit March with a panicked meeting with our Social Media manager to talk through a plan to get the word out, then raced back home for a writing session on a new witchy comedy series with the brilliantly talented Eva Torkkola and Shanon Kulupach.
Saturday the 5th was an on-stage appearance at the pop culture convention Supanova, which was hilarious, as we led a panel in a virtually empty room, but also super fun. Stefan Dennis joined us at the last minute and I had to keep telling his fans "no I'm not his wife, I'm his sister", and we had the amazing Kristina Benton and Shanon Kulupach in the audience cheering us on. It might not have been the massive publicity opportunity we hoped for, but it was a big honour to be asked and we had a huge giggle of a day.
I had to leave Supanova to get to my day job, and to be honest, it was a painful crash to earth. My arts admin job had been getting tougher and tougher during the many Melbourne lockdowns; a handful of us had kept the ticketing department running with a skeleton crew that kept getting smaller, with no breaks, and it just got worse when we got back on site. A mixture of constant change and lack of planning, made it feel like the organisation was lurching from disaster to disaster. I had been in the job for many years and seen many changes, but I was about to hit the burn out wall - and it would soon be time to finally plot my escape. But for now, I was still stuck, working hard to keep the box office running while also running a social media and PR campaign to get a cinema-shy, post-lockdown audience back in the cinema to see a no-budget little indie horror.
In many ways, it was a grindingly busy and sometimes frustratingly challenging month and writing, very much, fell by the way. There were some dinners, welcoming our friends to the new place, a lovely birthday and a glorious trip to Bathurst to see my daughter's new life, properly meet her beautiful fiancee and soak up all the puppy pats. Not to mention a surprise trip by one of our most cherished friends, where much talk, food and art were consumed, including wandering through the amazing Flinders Street Ballroom that has been closed for decades, to find the weird and wonderful creatures created by Patricia Piccinini.
There was tiredness and many tears over the month; I underestimated the impact moving away from the home where my girls turned into strong independent women, and my relationship with my incredible partner grew in love and creativity as we began, more and more working together, would hit me. The dinners, Christmases, rehearsals, laughs, tears, films watched and shot, love and laughter that made that place seemed gone for good. It brought into stark relief how my life is changing, and the harsh reality of ageing hit me hard.
But I have to remember that life is not done yet, and even through we are older in years, we are still young as filmmakers and still have a lot to make and do... and the month closed out proving all the hard work was well and truly worth it, with two fabulously full Cinema Nova screenings, the news that we would screen at the Horrific Hope Film Festival in Virginia and had been nominated for two awards at the Septimius Awards in Amsterdam - our bags were already packed.
This year the big resolution is to expand our ideas and to create a solid body of work. While playing more in the weird edges of our imagination and continuing to push the envelope on what we do.
Making a commitment to creating more. Not getting caught up in all the other stuff that seems so important but isn't. My other resolution is being more brave and changing my life to give more time for my creative life mine - but that's a whole different and scary can of worms!
Part of this refocusing is spending more mornings like this, sitting in one of my favourite coffee shops dreaming. And putting some of those dreams down on paper. Making the time for ideas, and getting into the practice of writing regularly. This is a strange sensation as I'm finding it requires slowing down
We're also making the effort to read more and see more and I'll endeavour to share some of my thoughts and discoveries here more often.
So here's what hit a cord with me in January.
The Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition at the NGV. This brilliant exhibition was inspiring, sad and overwhelming all at once. The sheer volume of work was daunting, especially as you consider how much must have been lost on subway walls, sides of buildings and obstructions of all kinds. Haring was know to draw on anything that stood in his way. To think of how prolific these artists were and how much they said about society then, that still resonates with society today - and in such a short time as both of the were taken from us much too soon - is a little humbling. And the way they fluidly mixed disciplines and styles has already inspired a the beginnings of a film/ live performance baby.
Taking the time to visit the original Heide cottage and standing in the rooms where Sydney Nolan, Joy Hester and Albert Tucker painted, drew, read, lived, loved and breathed, the work is stunning, full of life and drama created quickly while fully engaged in several conversations, by artist that were not recognised in their time and barely remembered now. Part of our rich and often ignored art history. We also got to see a model of the tiny caravan Albert Tucker build in his tiny Paris apartment and lived and traveled in for over a year. These were the folks that lived for their exploration in art, it puts steel in you spine just to see their bold brush strokes and be reminded of their beautiful messy lives.
And snuggled up on our couch this month with gave ourselves the huge treat of a Lynne Ramsay - Jonathan Glazer retrospective. Watching these masterful filmmakers side by side really highlighted the things they have in common. A fascination with grief and how it can be a catalyst for change, the idea of transformation, peering into the odd corners of life, a questioning about what humanity is and an ability to create masterful opening sequences. Lynne Ramsay's characters are raw and messy in the midst of transformation, Johnathan Glazers characters have a feeling at the beginning that they have it all worked out - and then it unravels. Bold, stylish full blooded, cheeky storytelling - and a preocupation with the bath.
Would love to hear what you have discovered this month, what has moved you and what is inspiring you.
Late last year we previewed a new monologue show and I just fell in love with my character. During the preview I got into an expensive suit and strutted around in some power heels feeling like I could take on the world - which was good as the character is one super tough cookie.
Then comes the season proper and a new costume; lucky one of my new year's resolutions is to get out of my comfort zone, because I find myself challenged to the max having to walk out on stage an extremely tight LATEX mini-dress.
Now here is the challenge, how do I play a character that needs to feel like she owns the room in a get up that I feel less than confident in. Those who know me can testify, I am strictly a boots, jeans and jackets kind of a girl. Sometimes described as a feminine tomboy, really I'm just lazy and prefer comfort over glamour.
So first I have to get used to parading around in the type of dress a BDSM Jessica Rabbit would wear - tick off another life experience. Then I have to get used to how restricting the latex is - I can sit down or breathe but not the two at once. And I'm a physical performer. Meaning I like to move around, curl up, stretch out, jump around. This is not going to happen, I
realise as I walk on stage for the first time in the dress.
So, even though I know the character, I can tap into the intention and understand her motives, I feel - just a little – self-conscious!
Not a good place for actor to be. Yep, it's true, this costume has thrown me. So what do I do. Panic, that's the first necessary step. But then I have a mini revelation - I love these actory moments -I realise what I'm seeing as an obstacle can be a real advantage. I just have to accept what is happening to me is also happening to my character. So my slight self-consciousness becomes her challenge to overcome, it gives fuel to her need to prove herself because it makes her feel vulnerable and she hates feeling vulnerable.
So it's been a great lesson in using what is really there not pretending it's something else.
Note to self: don't ignore what's there - be truthful - and use it. It might, just like my sexy dress, be a real gift.
Let’s just hope I remember this for the next time.
As most folks begin to take a look back on the year that was, and a look forward to the year that will be, all the "best of" lists begin to come out.
So, as an actor - someone who should be in action - I've decided that, this year, I shall list the five most interesting, inspiring or challenging experiences of 2013, in the hopes it will shed a little light on my direction for the bright and shiny new year.
So lets start with NUMBER ONE. My first trip overseas and a journey to spend time with my beautiful daughter and get to know her fabulous New York life.
Back in mid-2012 my daughter Caitlin decided to pack her backpack - and, by backpack, I mean several suitcases of expensive clothes - and try life in New York. Being the incredibly brave soul that she is, she left to live in one of the craziest cities in the world without knowing anyone or having any definite plan. She found her feet quickly, studied at Stella Adler, found a wonderful group of talented creative friends that she is now working with and fell in love. But, she's not coming back any time soon.
So I had to go to her.
Okay, this is an interesting one because, even though it was good for me and I got a lot out of it, I can't say I completely enjoyed the experience - at the time, anyway. I did four months of intensive training with a great American acting coach, sadly not in New York but right here in Footscray, and it was a real trial by fire. She was one intense and passionate lady, and big on the tough love style of teaching. As a very rusty and overly sensitive actor returning to serious study, this was quite an emotionally rough process. But if I didn't feel intensely, I would probably be a plumber rather than an actor - I hear they earn really good money! During the four months, I had some serious doubts about my abilities and my commitment and, in my 'dark night of the soul moment' (after a particularly frustrating class where I just wasn't getting it), I even considered giving up altogether... But then there was a change, where I stopped taking myself too seriously and put one of the many pieces of wisdom she was giving us into practice. 'Care less, but be more curious' - this gave me permission to take myself far less seriously and concentrate on the work, which I was really struggling with. I knew I had turned a corner when she did an impression of me in front of the rest of the class - a means to forcefully shake me out of my bad habits - and I laughed! Not only did it stop me from storing another potential hurt - poison for my acting process - but it shocked both of us, and from that moment on, we treated each other with a lot more respect. Even though it was a mega tough, frustrating and sometimes dispiriting four months, I think it helped me to toughen up, not take it so personally and learn to play - again! And for that I am very grateful!
But without the regained confidence of number one and the kick up the arse of number three, I would never have applied to audition for NUMBER FOUR.
And finally to NUMBER FIVE: a wonderful two day break in Sydney with two of my all time favourite people. We stayed in an art deco apartment (that reminded me of Mullholland Drive) right on the beach and watched two extraordinary theatrical events. First came "The Maids," starring the glorious Cate Blanchett and equally glorious Isabelle Huppert. Their sense of play really inspired me to try and continue to keep this in my work. (I can sometimes come down with a dangerous bout of way-too-serious-ness!) But the highlight of the trip was seeing Nederlands Dans Theater; a company I have been in love with for a long time, made more so by a recent cinema screening of their work (thanks to Sharmill Films). Imagine my total dance geek-gasm when we realised we were in the same row, only a few seats away, from the company's Artistic Director Paul Lightfoot and one of the principal dancers! The pieces were exquisite and so moving; we cried, then got autographs. Eeeeee!
Filed under "normal business," there has been lots of plodding along this year, lots of writing and re-writing and writing again. Lots of great theatre and movies, coffees with friends and family, intense discussions, classes and trips to the gym. All the usual stuff that, little by little, transforms me. A couple of big projects fell over and others consolidated while new ideas and plans are forming all the time. But the most exciting thing for me has been a greater sense of who I am, who I can be and what I really want to do. I'll keep you posted as I put this into action over the next 365 days. Happy 2014 all!!
Just over six weeks ago, I was invited to direct a new play. For me this was a big ask, as I have only directed two plays before, both works I had chosen and had several months to work on the concept before rehearsal. But it was a good play and a massive challenge, so I accepted.
And challenge me it has, bringing up the question of how you can get the very best out of your actors, without turning you into a screaming sergeant major barking orders from the sidelines. A megaphone, anyone? One thing I have learned about myself is that I am a perfectionist with a good dose of control freak, a less than admirable quality that I try to control, wryly ironic I know. But I have also been reminded of how much I have learnt, thanks to some truly amazing teachers. First and foremost, the incredible Jean-Pierre Voos, whose genius and skill was ocassionally overshadowed by his rage when his actors didn't get it, or he felt they were being lazy, stupid or unwilling to try something new no matter how out of left field. (Sometimes I hear myself using his exact words; one of my favorites is: "Why don't you try it and then we will both know".) All he demanded from his actors was absolute 24/7 dedication to the work. I worked with him for over nine years and I'm still only realising how incredibly fortunate I was. From Jean-Pierre I learnt how disciplined you must be to honor the work, I learnt stage craft and he instilled in me a love and respect for the text and a real sense for working with the unique rhythms of each piece - cherishing words. But most of all, he instilled in me the importance of communicating to the audience. For me, an actor's job is to make the audience feel. I remember after a particularly "emotional" rehearsal Jean-Pierre letting us know that clearly we were having a "great" time, but the audience were feeling nothing.
From the wonderful Catherine HIll, who I was lucky to work with on three productions, I again learnt a true respect of the text, she insisted everything must come from the words. An actor, aided by the director, is like an archaeologist uncovering the meaning, layer by layer.
And finally Ailsa Piper, who I was lucky enough to take classes with recently (and I am known to call on her skills and compassion when a terrifying audition approaches). From Ailsa, I was reminded of how surprising the truth is, how unexpected, how much work an actor needs to do so they can let it all go when they walk on the stage and, again, a respect for the words, the rhythms of language and the primal effect the very sound we make has on the human psyche when expressing our truth.
So, trying to fill these very big shoes, I walk into rehearsal.
Now, with less than a week to go before we open, this tough, challenging, fascinating, button pushing, wonderful experience has made me clarify my own passion for the theatre.
So here it is:
I believe that, even though creating an authentic and emotionally truthful life on stage is an important part of much of the work (sometimes we need to create a heightened theatrical world, but create it so vividly that, for the time we inhabit it, we and the audience believe it to be the truth), it is only one of the many steps we need to take to creating a piece of theatre that will resonate. It's not the actor's job to feel, making the audience spectators to their emotions. It is the actor's job to get the audience to emotionally, intellectually and, sometimes, when the god of theatre is with you, spiritually engage with the story.
Jean-Pierre was right, an actor's job is not to feel but to get the audience to feel. But an actor doesn't have to do it alone, they have the text. The springboard to action, and plays are all about action. Exploring the words, uncovering their meanings and grounding that meaning in intentions that makes not just the meaning, but the feeling clear to the audience. And an actor needs to do it with with an impressive amount of skill. They need to be masters at communicating the smallest nuance to the audience, to let them in. This takes a dedication to physical and vocal work a dedication to practice and a self awareness to rid yourself of bad habits. We all have habits that creep into the work, part of an actor's job is be able to watch themselves, watch the way they walk stand, breathe, remember how it feels to be in every kind of situation, to become a keen and critical observer of themselves. Every flick of an eye, glance to the ground, fidget or shuffle must be there only to reveal something about the story to the audience, or it is a distraction and the audience will disconnect, making it twice as hard to win them back. This is not a permanent state that it is possible to achieve and remain in, but something for an actor to aspire to and to rejoice in those ever so brief moments when it all comes together. It's also a massive challenge, and as I inferred at the beginning of this ramble, I can't resist a challenge.
So what has directing brought me? A realisation of my own bad habits and current shortcomings as an actor, and a burning desire to free myself from them so I can amplify the connection I make with the audience. So, thank you to all the wonderful, dedicated performers I am working with for giving me my next irresistible challenge.